Part 1: Eat like Nanna did

Shops in main street Canowindra

Canowindra’s main street where my paternal grandparents shopped


“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” author Michael Pollan’s quote has got us thinking this January. Good food clues can be found by casting our attention back a generation or two to think what food procurement, preparation and consumption was all about. I’ve been digging into my family memory bank to do exactly that and discover some food clues and inspiration from yesteryear.

I still visit the main street where my grandparents shopped. When they were young, however, they bought vegetables from market gardeners who grew crops on the edge of town near the railway tracks according to my 70+year old cousin Max. The produce was sold door-to-door from the back of a horse cart. It was fresh and most definitely local.

One of my grandmothers wasn’t probably the best food inspiration. Although her original kitchen aid sits on my counter top here in Bangkok (lugging that across the oceans as hand luggage was fun) I don’t think she ever used it. She was the queen of store bought items and embraced modernity and supermarkets as well as Chinese takeaway meals every Friday night from the local golf club.

My other gran was a whizz in the kitchen and the majority of the food in her fridge and on the table was homemade. It was partly out of necessity as well as context. Living on a farm with fruit orchards provided wonderful, raw ingredients. Fabulous baking (she made all my cousins’ wedding cakes) and a consistently full biscuit tin is the lasting memory I have of her warm home.

Recently my mother Margaret shared her own memories of that rural kitchen in the 1940’s/ 50’s.

Laneway leading to 'Glenrowan' farmhouse

Full of food memories: my grandparent’s farm in Young, country Australia. It was formerly known as ‘Glenrowan’.

There wasn’t always electricity…The main issue with meal preparation depended on the availability of the food and storage as we didn’t have electricity until I was about 5 years old. Meat safes were used to store meat but obviously had to be used quickly. Also cold water was stored in a hessian water bag which kept the water cool and you would see the water bag attached to the sulky (horse cart) in transit and when people got cars it was on the front of the vehicles.

Lots of lamb on this farmhouse menu…We would have a traditional roast each week mostly on Sundays which in our house was predominantly lamb as we raised sheep. It was served with roast potatoes, sometimes sweet potatoes which were white, roast pumpkin and green vegetables peas, beans, cauliflower etc topped off with rich gravy and home made mint sauce.

The next day we would either have the cold roast meat with a salad in summer and in winter minced and made into Shepherd’s Pie with mashed potato on the top and a green vegetable or dipped in batter and fried served for dinner. Also sandwiches were made for school and Dad for work.

Most meals were meat. We would have either lamb chops, sausages or an Irish type stew made with meat, potatoes, onions, carrots etc.

Offal was used a lot in our house we would have steak and kidney pie, lamb’s fry and bacon but not lamb’s brains or tripe as we refused to eat them. I can remember eating sheep’s tongue and oxtail stew.

Roast chicken was served only on special occasions and with a lovely stuffing as chickens were the source of eggs and only killed when they stopped laying. We used to fight over the wish bone!! Turkeys were kept raised especially for Christmas and occasionally duck or a goose.

Seasonal eating from the orchards and garden…The menu always depended on what was in season with regard to fruit and vegetables.

We ate a lot of lamb with 3 vegs (white, yellow and green) eg potatoes, carrots, cauliflower or pumpkin and either peas, beans, spinach or cabbage. Chokes (chayote squash) were also served, usually in a white sauce.

Soups were often the main meal in winter and Mum used to make lovely dumplings to serve with the soup. The only herbs that were used were mint, parsley and thyme – garlic was not used.

Salads were mostly lettuce which was sliced thinly, chopped egg and homemade mayonnaise on top, tomato and cucumber with brown vinegar on top and home grown beetroot which had been boiled and sliced. If there were new potatoes in the garden tiny boiled potatoes with butter and parsley was a treat.

Breakfast of champions…Breakfast was porridge, brown sugar and milk sometimes topped with fresh cream in winter and mostly Weetbix in summer. Dad was served either bacon and eggs or lamb chops. We used to eat mostly scrambled eggs or toast with either homemade jam or Vegemite. If Mum didn’t have enough bread by Friday she’d make French toast and little scones which she would fry.

A simple drinks menu…Meals were accompanied with white bread (no sliced bread until the late 50’s) and tea for the adults, milk or water for the kids. 

Mum had chickens for eggs and a cow for milk. We separated the cream and Mum made her own butter. She used the butter milk for making scones.

We only got aerated drinks from the local factory at Christmas and beer was usually only consumed in our house at Christmas and certainly not when Mum’s Dad was around as he was a strict Methodist!

Sweet treats aplenty…Each evening meal had a sweet either bread and butter pudding, apple pie or fruit which had been preserved in summer with jelly and either custard or occasionally ice cream if Mum had been able to get the fridge to work properly to chill it and beat it all by hand as she didn’t have an electric mixmaster until the late 1950’s. We had quince trees so Mum served baked quinces stuffed with mixed fruit and cream which was yummy.

There was always an endless supply of homemade biscuits, cakes and scones for morning and afternoon teas when people popped in and at the weekends.

In winter we would occasionally have toast made on the open fire with hot chocolate before bed.

Food Exchange…If our chickens had stopped laying and we had a good supply of say fruit or vegetables it was traded for eggs. Honey was also supplied by a friend.

Eco-packaging…The only takeaway was either fish and chips wrapped in newspaper  or sometimes a meat pie with gravy on a Friday – that was Mum’s shopping day. Chinese takeaway came in the late 1950’s and usually was collected in saucepans as plastic containers were not readily available.

Our school lunches were sandwiches, often tomato, which was soggy by lunch time or Vegemite wrapped in grease proof paper and put in a brown paper bag with biscuits and fruit. No tuck shop (canteen). The only cheese available in the area was Kraft cheddar so we’d also have cheese sandwiches. We had Sao (savoury cracker) biscuits served with cheese, Vegemite or peanut butter.

The shopping list was short…Mum only needed to buy bread, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, tea and vinegar etc. as vegetables, fruit were mostly home grown and we killed our own meat. If a pig was killed the bacon was cured by a friend. I can’t really remember having roast pork as Dad had pigs to sell to subsidize his income.

What good food clues are in your family memory bank? Let us know by sharing your comments below.

About Seed & Tell

It’s all about food! The what, where, when, how and why. We think everyone should know what they’re eating and where it came from.

(Image credits: Peta Bassett)



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